White Americans' Deaths Outnumber Births for First Time Ever

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 13 2013 12:01 PM

White Americans' Deaths Outnumber Births for First Time Ever

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A new Census report shows that there are more deaths than births among the non-Hispanic white population in the United States.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Here's some surprising news coming out of the Census Bureau today: For the first time ever more white people died in the United States than were born last year.

This natural decrease in the white population has never happened before in American history. Even through the Great Depression and various U.S. wars, there's never been such drop-off among non-Hispanic whites. According to census numbers, there was a decrease of 12,400 people out of the 198 million non-Hispanic whites in the country last year. That figure is based purely on a straightforward calculation of births minus deaths. While it's true that the percentage of the drop is relatively small, demographers are nonetheless surprised. The Washington Post explains why:

The decline in the non-Hispanic white population has happened more quickly than demographers with the Census Bureau have been predicting. That’s because births and immigration levels, which can counter the drop, have slowed more than expected in recent years, said Jennifer Ortman, a Census Bureau demographer in the bureau’s population projections division.

Census demographers expect the growth rate for non-Hispanic whites to resume rising — slowly — when the economy improves. The number for whites should peak in 2024, when the oldest baby boomers, who are overwhelmingly non-Hispanic whites, are well into their 70s and dying in larger numbers.
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None of the other racial groups experienced this natural decrease, so why is the population of white Americans on the decline? It seems that there are a number of factors that have been occurring in recent years. As the Post notes, whites are by far the oldest racial group—with a median age of 42, compared to just under 32 for African Americans and under 28 for Hispanics. Secondly, white women are more likely to be childless than other racial or ethnic groups—not to mention that college-educated women of all races have been delaying marriage and motherhood for years. And lastly, the recession's woes have caused many couples to become more reluctant to have children.

And let's not forget that last year, for the first time, census figures showed that a majority of the babies being born in the U.S. were minorities. The future of America is here, one demographer pretty much told the Post.  "We’re jumping the gun on a long, slow decline of our white population, which is going to characterize this century," William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, told the paper. "It’s a bookend from the last century, when whites helped us grow. Now it’s minorities who are going to make the contributions to our economic and population growth over the next 50 years."

The Census Bureau has projected that such significant drops will happen with regularity by 2025.

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.